By Jay Engelbrecht
I tend to be skeptical, but the facts have convinced me. As new heat records continue to be set, decade after decade, as the evidence continues to mount, I can no longer deny that climate change is real.
When my dad was growing up, his family butchered a cow every November, then hung a side of beef outside, and ate off it all winter. The meat never spoiled. I live in the same area, but these days, I play football in short sleeves with my son on November afternoons.
Thirty years ago I helped a neighbor put up hay on a 103-degree day. I remember it for two reasons—we ate the best watermelon ever that evening, and that’s the hottest temperature I recall from my youth. This summer my kids played for weeks on end in hotter temperatures, and didn’t give it much thought.
This past March, more than 15,000 heat records were set. “The 12 months ending in June were the warmest 12 continuous months on record in the United States,” according to the article “Endless Summer” in the July 23, 2012, issue of Time. That same article said 3,215 daily high temperature records were set during June.
And July trumped June. From Maine to California, all across the continental United States, July’s average temperature of 77.6 was the hottest on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that around the globe, July 2012 was the 36th consecutive July with temperatures above the 20th-century average.
Globally speaking, unless you were born before 1976—the year Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10 at the Montreal Summer Olympics and the Blues Brothers debuted on Saturday Night Live—you’ve never experienced a cooler-than-average July.
In an editorial in The Guardian, Myles Allen, a professor in Oxford’s Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Planetary Physics Department, wrote:
I don’t ask anyone to believe in human influence on climate because I do, or because thousands of other scientists do. I ask them to look at the evidence. As [Albert] Einstein is said to have reacted to an article entitled One Hundred Scientists Against Einstein, “If I’m wrong, one would be enough.” The scientific case for human influence on climate is not a political opinion, made stronger simply by lots of people signing up. Nor is it a religious conviction, made stronger . . . if it is “genuinely held.” It is based on evidence.
Flipping the argument, Allen observed that if he “could come up with convincing evidence that greenhouse gas emissions do not cause dangerous climate change,” then he’d be on the fast track for a Nobel Prize.
I tend to be skeptical, maybe because I live in Missouri, which is nicknamed the “Show-Me” state. But regarding climate change, from what I’ve read (and experienced), I’m now convinced.
NOAA reports that the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest on record, and 2010 was tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record. It sure felt like it to me.
The United States Global Change Research Program concluded that while the Earth certainly goes through natural cycles of warming and cooling—often caused by changes related to the sun—solar energy has remained stable over the past 50 years. In my experience, when astronomers report there’s going to be an eclipse or a meteor shower or a rare lunar event, they’re right on the money. For that reason, I’ll take their word about the sun’s radiation patterns.
If the sun’s not causing the heightened warming, what is? Although not all climate scientists agree, the majority are convinced of two things: (1) the earth’s climate is changing, and (2) the most likely cause is man-made pollution.
Like I said, not all climatologists agree. In fact, according to an independent report detailed in The Guardian, only 97 percent of climatologists reached that conclusion.
Corporations such as General Electric, Duke Energy, and DuPont are working far beyond lip-service levels to reduce their emissions. Six years ago, a small group of Evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren and the president of Wheaton College, signed an Evangelical Climate Initiative. To my knowledge, none of them feels duped or has expressed regret.
In the early days of the National Football League, most coaches refused to let players drink water during even the hottest, most grueling practices. One lineman, knowing he’d be fined $500 (a huge amount at the time), drank a glass of lemonade right in front of his coach. He was promptly fined. Decades later the lineman laughed and said, “It was worth every penny.”
Now we know lack of water leads to dehydration, inhibiting performance.
And, likewise, now we know carbon dioxide contributes to warmer temperatures.
Back in the day, denying water to players wasn’t prohibited or even frowned upon. Coaches simply thought and acted like their peers. And for a Christian to deny climate change in this day and age, with all the evidence to support it—well, a Christian is merely following his Christian community peer group.
The Message and the Messengers
How much easier for Christians if President Ronald Reagan (whom I admire) had trumpeted environmental issues. But alas, the early warnings came from those we don’t have much use for—Hollywood stars and liberal politicians. Had Billy Graham urged me to “go green,” I’d have done it decades ago, but the warnings came from “the Al Gore crowd,” which made it hard to swallow.
For me, the time has come to swallow my pride for a combination of reasons. Year after year, meticulous carbon-dioxide-in-the-atmosphere measurements (known as the Keeling Curve) show that increased carbon dioxide levels and warmer temperatures go together like Michael Phelps and water.
Another personal reason is that, while I’ve longed to visit Glacier National Park since I was 18, I’ve never been. When the park opened a century ago, the area included 150 glaciers. Today, only 25 glaciers are left. I’ve decided not to put off my visit much longer.
A third reason is maple syrup, which I love, but the price keeps going up. Since New England winters aren’t as cold as they once were, sap starts flowing early, and the trees get tapped too soon. The problem goes far beyond rising prices. The higher heat and longer summers delay the first frost, which is needed to give trees their spectacular autumn color.
Believe me, I know climate change is controversial and lots of questions remain unanswered.
Here’s a Jeopardy answer: “This naturalist grew up attending a Campbell Restoration congregation, was a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, and worked to preserve Yosemite Valley and the majestic Sequoia groves of California.”
Jeopardy question: “Who is John Muir?”
Muir wrote, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
Ezekiel’s Question . . . and Promise
Speaking of trees and fools, the prophet Ezekiel condemned Israel’s irresponsible shepherds by saying,
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? (Ezekiel 34:18, 19).
I need to pollute less. I’m getting better about planning ahead to minimize car usage. I’m walking and biking more. I planted seven trees this past spring.
Sure, these are little things. We’re not called to save the planet, just cultivate our little patch. By way of reminder, the Bible is a comedy (things turn out well in the end) that begins and ends in a garden.
Seventy years ago, my grandmother, along with her sisters, waited for a troop train to pass through our little town. Each sister had baked an apple pie that each one handed to the first soldier she met. Apple pies didn’t win World War II, commitment did.
How proud we’ll be when our children and grandchildren speak of us—the people living at the onset of the 21st century—as committed, wise stewards.
Then the Old Testament prophecy will be fulfilled. “The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land” (Ezekiel 34:27).
Jay Engelbrecht teaches Lifetime Wellness at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.